So much of current parenting lore, advice and protocol centers on the idea that you should be able to control your emotions and generally present a calm demeanor to your kids. I’ve certainly touched on it in other posts and have read it more times than I can count in parenting books and articles. But just as its hard for us to explain to kids, cerebrally, how they should keep their cool, it’s often hard for us, as adults, to follow our own advice. The problem with not staying calm is that we’re most likely modeling the exact opposite of the behaviors that we want to see from our kids. Uh oh. And who wants to make themselves into a liar by instructing a child to deal with problems rationally and then acting like a professional fuss-maker when faced with problems of our own.
So, how does one stay calm in the face of aggressive drivers? Or being late? Or loud and unruly kids? Or a spouse who said they’d do something and didn’t? I don’t know about you but I’m already thinking about getting mad. I think the simplest answer to this question is PRACTICE. Just as with behavior modifications that you’ve thought up for your kids, unless they are practiced on a regular basis, they very rarely work. Changing your own behavior is no different. Practicing a new behavior is the act of change!
I’m going to take you a few years back in time to visit a version of me who did not know how to keep her cool. I lost my cool everyday. Usually more than once a day. I could not keep hold of it for anything. I was teaching at the time and having to deal with loud, unruly, often obnoxious behaviors coming from many fronts. The days were prolonged periods of pain for my students and me. I was slow at learning that in order to have more success, I needed to change my behavior first. I was asking them to change at the top of my voice. Why couldn’t they hear me? Oh right, because I was talking too loud while I was asking them to be quiet. There was no magic potion that I could drink to make it happen, but there were a few things that I could do to help it along.
1. Set a goal of not raising your voice. What?! How?! Try to save that raised voice for extreme situations. “Stop! You’re getting too close to the street!!!” Take a deep breath before responding to a situation. No really. That 2 second delay helps give you a moment to keep yourself under control & also decide on an appropriate response that does not involve you yelling. Plus you can always go yell in your room afterwards. Showing your kids that it’s ok to let off steam in appropriate ways is a good parenting move.
2. Plan ahead. If being late really riles you (as it sometimes does to me), then work on having things ready the night before (for school related lateness) or concentrate on giving your kids warnings of an impending departure so that they will actually help you (hopefully) not be late.
3. Stick with the routine. If your routine is that your child puts their own shoes on, don’t step in just to hurry them along. You might have to wait while feeling the clock tick by, but sometimes interrupting prolongs things and puts everyone on edge. Try to wait as much as you can before getting involved.
4. Be stubborn about the changes you want to see in yourself. I know that this sounds hard, but if you police your behavior as much as you police your children’s behavior, you should have no problem directing yourself to change. Tell others your plan. They might help police you too.
Hopefully these thoughts will at least get you thinking about ways to keep your cool. Trust me that once you figure out how to do it, life gets a little sunnier & your days start seeming better. Chill out daddy-o!